Illini gymnasts await Olympic selection

_Editor’s note: This is the ninth part of a series highlighting Illinois gymnast Paul Ruggeri’s road to potentially qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games._

There is a mixture of emotions invading recent Illinois graduate Paul Ruggeri’s mind on the eve of the day he will discover if he’s accomplished his Olympic dream.

The four day competition of Visa Championships and Olympic Trials is over and the complete U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the 2012 London Olympics will be announced Sunday.

Ruggeri is pleased with his results, surprised at how well he did, happy with how far he’s come, humbled by the other athletes performances, anxious to know his outcome and most of all, relieved that competition is over.

“I am really proud of myself and how I performed,” said Ruggeri, who hit all 12 of his routines during the two days of trials. “We’re just gonna sit back and pray now, that’s all we can do.”

Ruggeri finished the competition sixth in the all-around and third on the high bar and floor. He was stunned to have hit all his events, though he did not do as well as hoped on the vault in both days of trials.

“The second day of my Visa’s was the first time I hit all of my events in a major competition,” Ruggeri said. “I could never have imagined that I was going to come to trials and hit 12-for-12. It’s what I wanted to do and what I always work for, but that it happened, it’s just surreal.”

His Illinois teammate sophomore C.J. Maestas finished seventh in the all-around and fourth on the rings.

Illinois volunteer assistant coach David Sender ended 14th overall, only ahead of Michigan junior Sam Mikulak who did not finish the competition due to injury. Sender, who had taken a year off from veterinary school to stage an Olympic comeback, suffered several falls although he finished second on the vault.

“David just kind of ran out of gas in his last events,” said Illinois assistant coach Daniel Ribeiro, who along with assistant coach Ivan Ivankov, took over for head coach Justin Spring who is expecting his first-born son any day now.

Ribeiro had no comment regarding Sender’s possibilities of making the team, but the likelihood is low considering his end results.

Dannell Leyva and John Orozco were named to the Olympic team immediately following the trials. They won automatic slots after taking first and second place finishes in the all-around. Three more gymnasts and one to three alternates have yet to be named to the Olympic team. Ribeiro said there are likely going to be three alternates selected and that the gymnasts would know by 10 a.m. Sunday morning. The news is not announced to the public until the end of the women’s competition at 10 p.m. Sunday evening.

Ruggeri and Maestas have a high likelihood of taking the alternate spots.

“If I was naming the team then it would make sense to put both me and C.J. in those alternate spots,” Ruggeri said. “We complement each other in that I can step up for somebody on floor, vault, parallel bars and high bar and he can step up on pommel horse and rings. What might hurt us is if they decide to use a specialist, somebody who didn’t score as high in the all-around.”

Ruggeri and Maestas are bubble athletes, but they performed to their full potential during trials, Ruggeri said.

“We are just happy to let them know what’s up,” Maestas said. “Paul and I, we made a statement today.”

The selection committee will decide the team based on who can complement each other the best, Ruggeri said. There is a 43-page document which highlights the entire selection process where areas such as international and domestic experience, physical fitness, start values, execution values and overall performance are evaluated.

Now it’s simply a waiting game until the team and alternates will be announced.

“If they want me on the team, then they’re going to put me on there,” Ruggeri said. “If not, then it’s not meant to be.”